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Text Bombs Are S Koreans’ Latest Political Tactic

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During the Cultural Revolution, millions of students across China went on a rampage against any perceived dissident, inflicting both physical and emotional violence. Half a century later in South Korea, to silence critics, supporters of political parties are using what the country is best known for: technology.

More specifically, text messages. Some South Koreans are bombarding politicians they disapprove of with thousands of messages, which often contain blistering criticism and personal attacks. And when it comes to “text message bombing,” as the tactic is known, there is no left or right.

Recently, some ruling Minjoo Party lawmakers joined in the criticism of sexist remarks made by Tak Hyeon-min, a senior administrator in the office of President Moon Jae-in and also one of Moon’s close friends. Moon’s fanatical supporters, popularly known as Moonppa, responded by using the text message strategy against Moon’s own party members.

“On a rare day-off, I’m being inundated with text messages….They’re sending them mechanically, without thinking and for no reason. Frankly it’s a little pathetic,” Minjoo Party lawmaker Park Yong-jin wrote publicly on his Facebook page. The day before, on a television show, Park had suggested that Tak step down if he was truly on Moon’s side.

Text message bombing first emerged as a strategy last December as the Park Geun-hye scandal snowballed. Minjoo Party member Pyo Chang-won released a list of lawmakers, all belonging to the conservative Saenuri Party, who, Pyo claimed, opposed Park’s impeachment.

Soon, another list containing the lawmakers’ phone numbers started circulating online, allowing angry citizens to vent their rage by sending messages containing personal attacks or making phone calls in the early hours.

Some lawmakers had to change their numbers when their phones began ringing every second and basically became unusable. Ever since then, firing text messages to politicians one disapproves of has become a favored tactic among some South Koreans for expressing political stances.

Some are welcoming the new political reality, where citizens actively engage in politics and directly communicate their opinions to politicians. According to this view, text bombing is a modern-day form of direct democracy, giving bigger voices and greater power to ordinary people. In March, during the presidential campaign, now-elected Moon released a phone number to which voters were invited to send policy suggestions (admittedly, it wasn’t his personal number and it only received messages, not calls).

Others are wary of text messages containing excessive profanity and threats that smack of cyber bullying. Instead of allowing a productive forum for two-way discussions between politicians and citizens, they say, such messages merely amount to hateful attacks. Some also warn of the danger of mistaking the minority that engage in text bombing tactics for the majority that don’t, which could detract politicians from focusing on issues that actually matter.

During the livestreamed parliamentary hearings for Moon’s cabinet nominees, opposition Liberty Korea Party and People’s Party lawmakers suffered numerous text bombing attacks from Moon’s supporters. Opposition lawmakers dug up each nominee’s past errors, including tax evasion and registering under a false address. Soon arrived the text messages that mentioned the lawmakers’ own faults. In between were numerous missives containing insults and threats.

In early June, the People’s Party formed a task force to investigate the text bombing attacks on its lawmakers. More recently, the Liberty Korea Party decided to take a legal action against the onslaughts. It didn’t do much to deter those who believe in their right to text messages, with some calling the lawmakers’ reaction a symptom of politicians’ elitist mindset.

“Threatening to take legal action against text message bombing comes from the perception that lawmakers are above the people. The people are clearly the lawmakers’ employers. If they don’t do their jobs well, the people should be able to fire them. And if they lie and make unreasonable claims, the people should be able to complain,” wrote one Twitter user.

 

Cover image: Sending thousands of text messages to politicians one disapproves of has become a favored tactic for some South Koreans. (Source: Pixabay)

Jieun Choi is staff writer at Korea Exposé. She has worked in the art industry and startups in Hong Kong and Australia.